Dedicated to the saints Peter and Mary, Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) is the seat of the Catholic Archbishop of Cologne. Cologne Cathedral is the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany and has been Cologne's most famous landmark for centuries. Once the tallest building in the world, Cologne Cathedral still boasts the world's largest church façade.
The cathedral's main treasure is a golden reliquary containing the remains of the Three Magi of Christmas story fame. These relics and other treasures have made Cologne Cathedral a major pilgrimage destination for centuries.
History of Cologne Cathedral
Cologne Cathedral stands on the site of a 4th century Roman temple, followed by a square church known as the "oldest cathedral" commissioned by Maternus, the first Christian bishop of Cologne. A second church built on the site, the "Old Cathedral," was completed in 818. This burned down on April 30, 1248.
Construction of the present Gothic church began in the 13th century and took, with interruptions, more than 600 years to complete. The new structure was built to house the relics of the Three Magi, taken from Milan by Holy Roman Emperor Fredrick Barbarossa and given to the Archbishop of Cologne, Rainald von Dassel in 1164.
The foundation stone of Cologne Cathedral was laid on August 15, 1248, by Archbishop Konrad von Hochstaden, and the choir was consecrated in 1322. After this initial rapid progress, construction work gradually came to a standstill, and by the year 1560, only a torso had been built.
Only with the 19th century Romantic enthusiasm for the Middle Ages and the commitment of the Prussian Court did construction work resume. 1824 saw the addition of the towers and other substantial parts of the cathedral, mostly according to surviving medieval plans and drawings.
The completion of Germany's largest cathedral was celebrated as a national event in 1880, 632 years after construction had began. The celebration was attended by Emperor Wilhelm I.
The cathedral suffered 14 hits by World War II aerial bombs but did not collapse and reconstruction was completed in 1956. In the northwest tower's base, an emergency repair carried out with bad-quality brickstones taken from a nearby war ruin remained visible until the late 1990s as a reminder of the War, but then it was decided to reconstruct this section according to the original appearance. It is possible to climb a spiral staircase to a viewing platform about 98 metres above the ground.
In 1996, the cathedral was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List of culturally important sites and in 2004, it was placed on the "World Heritage in Danger" list.
What to See at Cologne Cathedral
The 19th century exterior of Cologne Cathedral is faithful to the original medieval plans, except for the modern steel roof. At its completion, Cologne Cathedral was the world's tallest building, overtaking the Cathedral of Strasbourg. In 1884, it lost the title to the Washington Monument, but Kölner Dom still boasts the largest church façade in the world.
The building is rarely completely free of scaffolding and renovation work, as wind, rain, and pollution slowly eat away at the stones. The Dombauhütte, which does the repairs, is said to employ the best stonemasons of the Rhineland.
Inside, the most celebrated work of art in the cathedral is the Sarcophagus of the Magi, a large gilded sarcophagus dating to around 1200. The largest reliquary in the western world, the exterior is seven feet of gilded silver and jewels. Images of Old Testament prophets line the bottom and the 12 apostles decorate the top. Inside, the reliquary holds three golden-crowned skulls believed to belong to the Three Magi.
These relics were acquired by Cologne in the 12th century and put the city on the pilgrimage map. Cologne Cathedral is still an important stop for modern pilgrims. The Three Magi do not play a large role in the life of Jesus, but they are honored for being the first pilgrims. Their precedent inspired medieval pilgrims to travel far to worship Jesus.
The Gero Cross (Gero-Kreuz), near the sacristy, is the oldest surviving monumental crucifix north of the Alps. Carved in 976 in a style ahead of its time, the crucifix depicts Jesus neither suffering nor triumphant, but with his eyes closed, dead. It is both a powerful religious image and a wonderful piece of art. With the Magi reliquary and the Madonna of Milan, the Gero Cross is one of the three major pilgrim stops in the cathedral.
The Chapel of the Virgin(Marienkapelle) contains The Patron Saints of Köln, painted in 1442 by Stefan Lochner. The painting is notable for its photographic realism (note the varieties of herbs in the foreground) and believable depth.
In the Sacrament Chapel is the Madonna of Milan (Mailänder Madonna), an elegant wooden sculpture depicting Mary and the child Jesus. Made in the Cologne Cathedral workshop around 1290, this High Gothic statue is associated with miracles and has attracted pilgrims for centuries. It is probably a replacement for an even older statue, which was brought to Cologne with the relics of the Three Magi by Rainald von Dassel and destroyed in the fire of 1248.
Another important statue of the Virgin Mary, which attracts the most attention from today's pilgrims and worshippers, is the miracle-working Jeweled Madonna in the north transept. Only the heads of the Virgin and Child can be seen; the remainder of the statue is dressed in a gown of white silk (last renewed in 1991) pinned with jewels and other ex-votos. The sculpture is Baroque and dates from the late 17th century.
The choir is surrounded by 13th and 14th century art: carved oak stalls, frescoed walls, painted statues and stained glass. The Treasury, outside the cathedral's left transept, is housed in the cathedral's 13th-century stone-cellar vaults. The six dim rooms contain a variety of glittering chalices, crosses, and reliquaries, plus fine examples of bishops' garb.
Quick Facts on Cologne Cathedral
|Names:||Cologne Cathedral · Kölner Dom|
|Categories:||cathedrals; World Heritage Sites|
|Styles:||Gothic Revival style; Gothic|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||50.941285° N, 6.958144° E|
|Hours:||Cathedral: Nov-Apr 6am-7:30pm; May-Oct: 6am-10pm, except during services.|
Treasury: daily 10am-6pm; closed Good Friday.
Tower: May-Sep 9am-6pm; Mar-Apr, Oct 9am-5pm; Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec: 9am-4pm
|Lodging:||View hotels near Cologne Cathedral|
- Personal visits (December 2005, December 2007-February 2008).
- Kölner Dom - official website
- Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral) - Frommers.com
- The Three Kings and the Star - Archaeology
- Cologne's Landmark - City of Cologne official site
- Virtual Tour: Cathedral Furnishings and Windows - cathedral official site
- Cologne Cathedral - UNESCO World Heritage
- Cologne Cathedral - The Christian Traveler (travelogue)
- Cologne Cathedral - Virtual Tourist (user reviews)
- Cologne cathedral threatened by tower blocks - The Guardian, July 7, 2004
- Cologne Cathedral - Trip Advisor (user reviews)
- Dom - AAA European Travel
- Heidi Klum's Germany - American Way (the supermodel, who grew up near Cologne, suggests German sights including Cologne Cathedral)
- Cologne Cathedral - Go Historic
- Photos of Cologne Cathedral - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Cologne Cathedral
Below is a location map and aerial view of Cologne Cathedral. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.